Female Role Models To Look Out For On The Big Screen

Natalie Portman as Thor | Marvel/Disney

Times are changing in Hollywood, and women continue to break through the barriers which once held great actresses back or refined them to typecast roles. In recent years and in the years to come, females roles are taking a huge step forward in realms that may have once been deemed unconquerable.

Among the most dominant forces in cinema right now are comic book adaptation and video game adaptation movies, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe all but guaranteeing a box office smash hit with each new installment. For feminists, a female actor landing a leading role in movies drawn from comics and games is akin to the Holy Grail, with the two mediums being notoriously male-centric in their respective industries over the years. Now, women and girls can look to superhero movies and some action movies with the same fondness as men, seeing the starring characters as role models.

The last couple of years have been huge for lead female roles in these genres, and there’s even more on the slate for the years to come.

Wonder Woman starts the revolution, Marvel takes it further

Back in 2014, we showed our excitement for DC Entertainment’s announcement of a new Wonder Woman movie and that it may even have a female director. At the time, the debate around the already massive Marvel Cinematic Universe was why Black Widow hadn’t been given a standalone film, so DC swooping in with Wonder Woman certainly earned the praise of movie fans. The 2017 release directed by Patty Jenkins, the first female superhero movie director, earned fan and critical acclaim, effectively forcing Marvel’s hand to get a female superhero movie in the works.

Even though Black Widow was an established, integral and much-loved member of the MCU, Marvel decided to introduce a new character, Captain Marvel, for their first standalone female superhero movie. Captain Marvel was a billion-dollar success and put faith in Marvel that female-led movies could be done. In what could be seen as a statement of intent according to Grazia, during the epic climax of the Infinity Saga of the MCU, directors Anthony and Joe Russo did an all-female action sequence.

[Light spoilers ahead]

The MCU is filled with strong women, both in power and in character, and in this one scene during the battle, they all assemble for a crucial part of the mission. The trembling young Spider-Man is pinned down with the all-important gauntlet, and then Captain Marvel flies in to help. As she takes the gauntlet, Scarlett Witch, Okoye, Valkyrie astride her winged steed, Rescue, Mantis, Shuri, Wasp, Gamora, and Nebula swarm around to help with the big push. The women kick into gear, picking apart the oncoming army, with Okoye’s assault on Corvus Glaive being particularly awesome. The scene is a bit heavy-handed and implausible – even in a film about superheroes and aliens – but it sends a powerful message that female superheroes are here and integral to the MCU.

Wonder Woman and Avengers: Endgame have raised the bar for superhero movies, demanding that female superheroes get the treatment that they deserve. Wonder Woman’s success, despite the near-complete demise of the DC Extended Universe film slate, has allowed for a sequel to get in the works. Due for release June 5 2020, Wonder Woman 1984 will once again star Gal Gadot and have Patty Jenkins writing, directing, and producing. Once again taking a stand against the status quo of the current Hollywood scene, Jenkins has explained that the next Wonder Woman will not be a sequel but rather a standalone film in the series. In an interview with Vulture, Patty Jenkins explained that it’s akin to that of a James Bond or Indiana Jones movie instead of a continuous story of many installments. Yet again, this powerful female director is bucking the trend of the genre and doing something different, which will undoubtedly be a box office success as well.

The transformation of Tomb Raider

While people of all genders and convictions enjoyed the original Lara Croft: Tomb Raider games despite boasting a strong and skilled female lead, there was always the issue of the character’s dimensions and persona. Skinny waist, large breasts, and skimpy clothing: Lara Croft was more of a hyper-sexualized man-nerd fantasy than a female action hero who we could admire. Then came Square-Enix’s reboot trilogy to clean the slate for a new generation, presenting Lara Croft as a realistically proportioned character with a very powerful story arch of overcoming the challenges ahead, defeating the foes who doubt her, and emerging with the action heroine traits that we know and love.

The new-look Lara Croft caught on with Hollywood executives as well, with Warner Bros. Pictures releasing Tomb Raider in 2018, starring Alicia Vikander. The Swedish Oscar winner perfectly suited the new-look Lara Croft based on the new game series, emphasizing character development, physical prowess and skill over the hyper-sexualized demeanor of the old character. The new game series and $275 million worldwide box office-earning movie also convinced fellow game developers Microgaming to update their Lara Croft through Triple Edge Studios. Classic Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft made her way to online casinos a long time ago and was a huge hit, but for the new era, the developers created a new Tomb Raider slot game which also draws from the new video game series and presents a more realistic lead in Lara Croft: Temples and Tombs.

Lara Croft of modern cinema and gaming can be inspiring and despite a few odd plot holes in the movie, Tomb Raider did well by the character, as did Vikander. Due to the movie being a fun watch and ending on a cliffhanger, the hope has been that a sequel is on the way. Finally, in April 2019, MGM and Warner Bros. announced that the sequel is underway, with Amy Jump starting development on Tomb Raider 2. Jump adapted High-Rise and co-wrote the hilarious and Brie Larson-starring Free Fire, so she has great credentials and should be able to take the film series forward.

Women taking centre stage in the MCU

A new age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe commences with Phase 4, and there’s set to be plenty of empowering female leads in play. The huge announcements at San Diego Comic-Con 2019 left many pleasantly surprised by how many female superheroes would be getting starring roles. First comes the long overdue standalone Black Widow movie in which Scarlett Johansson will reprise her role and take on one of the most underrated villains of Marvel, Taskmaster, set for release on May 1, 2020. Afterwards comes The Eternals which boasts a star studded lineup – which is unusual at the point of entry for MCU movies – that is headlined by Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek as well as Lauren Ridloff.

Phase 4 continues into 2021 with the launch of WandaVision on Disney+, in which Elizabeth Olsen will play Scarlett Witch once again. The story is said to usher in the story of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – a film in which she shall also star. Finally, the biggest surprise reveal of the event was Thor: Love and Thunder, which will feature the return of Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, but with a twist.

Portman’s character and many others were hard done by in the first two Thor movies as they simply weren’t very good, but Thor: Ragnarok reset the slate and made Thor a fan-favourite once again. With the franchise back on track, Portman returns, but now she’ll wield Thor’s blessed hammer, Mjolnir. She is expected to become The Mighty Thor from the comics by Jason Aaron, taking a leading role in the next movie. Thor will also be joined by fellow Asgardian Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson.

With a new Wonder Woman, a possible sequel to Tomb Raider on the way, and a whole slate of female-led movies and series in the MCU, it’s fair to say that it’s a great time to look for female role models on the big screen.

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